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Taiwan Diverts Water From Farmers to Chip Makers Amid Historic Drought

Drought
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A new irrigation policy that favors Taiwan's chipmakers over its rice farmers has led to increased tension between the two, The New York Times reported Thursday, as the country attempts to respond to a water shortage caused by an ongoing drought.

Liberty Times Net reported that Taiwan's Water Resources Agency shut off irrigation to more than 183,000 acres of farmland to conserve water. Yet companies in the Hsinchu Science Park—most notably TSMC—still receive the precious liquid.

It might seem odd to prioritize chip production over farming, but Water Resources Agency deputy director Wang Yi-Feng told the NYT that the inverse would be a "lose-lose" because the farmers would suffer from low yields even with irrigated water.

Yet a recent study co-authored by the Semiconductor Industry Alliance estimated that 92% of the world's sub-10nm chip production happens in Taiwan. That means problems in the country "may cause severe interruptions in the supply of chips."

The "may" was unnecessary. The world's already waiting on Taiwan for chips used in CPUs, GPUs, automobiles, and other devices. The supply of other components, such as display panels, has also been threatened by the country's ongoing drought.

Companies like TSMC have responded to the water shortage with everything from improved recycling processes to trucking in water from elsewhere. These efforts won't completely solve the problem, however, at least in the short term.

Taiwan's Water Resources Agency is essentially in a no-win situation. If it favors rice farmers it runs the risk of further limiting chip production during a global shortage, and there's no guarantee that the farms would receive enough water anyway.

But, as The New York Times report showed, prioritizing the semiconductor industry is already rubbing some residents the wrong way. It's also a temporary solution that appears to be intended to bide time until the drought finally comes to an end.

In the meantime, TSMC can announce plans to spend $100 billion in three years to improve chip supply and continue developing new technologies, but it can't actually make it rain.

  • hotaru.hino
    My first thought is "doesn't Taiwan have a desalinasation system?" and apparently, as far as I was willing to look for it, the answer is "no" or at least something not significant enough.
    Reply
  • gargoylenest
    seriously, greed over food?
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    gargoylenest said:
    seriously, greed over food?
    Food can be imported from other countries, but it'll still suck for the farmers.
    Reply
  • thisisaname
    hotaru.hino said:
    Food can be imported from other countries, but it'll still suck for the farmers.

    If everyone put manufacturing over food production there would be no place to import it from.

    Chip Makers need to get better at managing their water usage as this historic drought is could be the the new normal rather than being a one off.
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    thisisaname said:
    If everyone put manufacturing over food production there would be no place to import it from.
    But everyone doesn't do that now do they? A vast majority of Taiwan's economy comes from semiconductor manufacturing. If they put the kebash on that, it could make things worse for them than reducing agricultural output that they can make up by importing food.

    It would be a different situation if there was no food to import.
    Reply
  • jonathan1683
    we need gpus, but damn that's screwed up. Meanwhile TSMC doesn't want to build any more factories in the US because they don't need them.
    Reply
  • purple_dragon
    TSMC has enough money to build their own desalination plant and then the water could go to the farmers rather than manufacturing plants. It's a bad choice to have to send water either direction but TSMC can survive easier than a poor farmer can. In the end money usually speaks louder, hopefully TSMC will start a program to help the local farmers.
    Reply
  • jelyon
    The answer is simple but getting governments and businesses to implement the solution is the hard part. Taiwan need only switch to hydrogen fuel cells to increase its water supply and increase its electrical generation. The real question is why is a technically advanced company, like TSMC, so dim when it comes to embracing technology.

    If TSMC's shareholders cared about future profits or just simply care about humanity, then they will force TSMC's hand in this matter.

    Until then, TSMC should be labeled a merchant of death for its willful choice to let others suffer just so it can make short term profit.
    Reply
  • OriginFree
    thisisaname said:
    If everyone put manufacturing over food production there would be no place to import it from.

    Chip Makers need to get better at managing their water usage as this historic drought is could be the the new normal rather than being a one off.

    Well farmers need to as well. I've lived in north american farm country and they just suck every drop they can. Then you look at the new vertical farms in Denmark and other places and realize that while we have boosted production in farms over the last 8,000 years the basics are still old school.

    If you can build a chip with 1+ billion transistors then you can build a modern vertical low water farm.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    purple_dragon said:
    TSMC has enough money to build their own desalination plant and then the water could go to the farmers rather than manufacturing plants.
    The reason Taiwan decided to prioritize TSMC over rice farmers is because even if Taiwan decided to cut off TSMC, the amount of water probably still wouldn't have saved the rice fields and the water would then have been completely wasted. TSMC was the logical safe bet.

    Taiwan and TSMC may have the money to invest in extra water processing plants but building them and the pipes needed to carry water would take a year if not longer, far too late to help anybody this time around.
    Reply